Tag Archives: High school graduation rates

What Good Are Higher Graduation Rates If Students Aren’t Learning More?

On Thursday, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) released the results of its 2015 science assessment for America’s 4th, 8th, and 12th grade students. Only 22 percent of 12th graders scored at or above the proficient level, compared to 38 percent of 4th graders and 34 percent of 8th graders. And while 4th and 8th graders both saw a small but significant improvement from 2009, high school seniors stagnated — earning the same average score as the 2009 sample.

This was also true across all subgroups. Among students of colors, students with disabilities, English language learners (ELLs), rural students, and female students, not a single group saw a statistically significant score change from 2009.2015 NAEP Science Assessment Scores

We saw a similar trend in April, when NAEP released the 12th grade results of its 2015 reading and math assessments. Seniors’ average reading score did not significantly change — again across every single subgroup. The average 12th grade math score declined.

And yet, earlier this month, data released by the U.S. Department of Education (ED) showed that America’s high school graduation rate has reached a record high of 83 percent, continuing a five year trend. In stark contrast with this year’s NAEP data, rates among students of color, students with disabilities, ELLs, and low-income students have all improved.

While this is certainly good news, it begs the question: What good are higher graduation rates if students aren’t learning more?

According to ED Secretary John King: “Students who have a high school diploma do better in the 21st Century economy than students who don’t. So having a higher graduation rate is meaningful progress.” While high school graduates do earn more than non-graduates, this answer is still deeply unsatisfying.

States will have the opportunity to seriously address America’s stagnant high schools in the coming years. The Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), signed into law last December, provides greater flexibility for states in almost every facet of federal K-12 education policy. The law makes it easier for states to spend Title I money on high school students. It also gives states much greater leeway for using school improvement funds, including an optional set-aside for programs like Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate, and career and technical education. It remains to be seen exactly how states will implement the law, but luckily we’ll have NAEP along the way to give us a national snapshot of student learning.

We’re doing a better job of shepherding students to high school completion — now we just need to make sure they actually learn something.

Graduation Rates Are Insufficient as an Accountability Measure

Graduation rates aren’t a very good measure on which to hold high schools accountable.

There are a couple reasons for this. First, graduation decisions are mostly left up to the schools and districts that are supposedly accountable for them. If you hold schools and districts accountable for their graduation rates, they have an incentive to just pass more students along and out the door.

Second, graduation rates also have a long time lag between when a student begins his or her high school career and when he or she finally finishes. Although schools and districts have quite a bit of control over these things, there’s still a long time lag, and it will be hard for a superintendent or principal to show any immediate improvements.

Both of these issues can be mitigated in various ways. States adopted high school graduation exams to require all students across the state to meet the same bar. But those exams come with their own problems. To avoid the time lag problem, states could adopt retention measures calculated on an annual basis. But few states have done so. Averaging across multiple years could also help, but few states do that either, and schools still can’t move the needle very quickly.

But worst of all, graduation rates don’t tell us very much about whether students are prepared for life after graduation. Continue reading

Why Aren’t NAEP Scores for High School Students Going Up?

I have a new report out today called “Mind the Gap: The Case for Re-Imagining the Way States Judge High School Quality.” I hope you’ll give it a read.

I’ll be blogging about it all week, starting today with a look at why we even need high school accountability systems at all. As I point out in the paper, we’re in the midst of a strange paradox. Reading and math achievement levels are increasing for 4th- and 8th-graders, but they’ve barely budged for high school students. High school graduation rates are at all-time highs, and more students are going to and persisting in college, but college dropouts are now a bigger problem than high school dropouts. Continue reading

Schooling Isn’t Learning, the Rewards to Better Schools Are Enormous, and Other Observations from Eric Hanushek

Eric Hanushek

In the process of writing our recent paper on federal education policy, I spent time re-reading the academic research on school accountability in general and No Child Left Behind in particular. What struck me upon re-reading it was the disconnect between what the research says about the effects of school accountability–the literature tends to find it has small but significant impacts–and the national conversation about it.

As Congress prepares to consider legislation to reauthorize NCLB, I reached out to Eric Hanushek, the Paul and Jean Hanna Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution of Stanford University, to talk about his research on education and school accountability. Hanushek is a leader in the development of economic analysis of educational issues and has authored numerous, highly cited studies on the effects of class size reduction, high stakes accountability, the assessment of teacher quality, and other education related topics. His recent work shows that the quality of education is closely related to state and national economic growth.

What follows is lightly edited transcript of our conversation.  Continue reading

Updated: The Pessimist’s Take on Rising High School Graduation Rates?

NPR had a great feature this week about high school graduation rates and whether we can really trust recent increases. NPR’s entire suite of work is fantastic journalism and I encourage you to check it out; my personal favorite is this interactive series focused on individual students.

And yet, the coverage leaves out a few crucial details. Continue reading